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Mumbrella banned by awards organisers after news stories questioning credibility of entries

Spikes Asia logoThe organisers of the Cannes Lions and Spikes Asia have banned Mumbrella from attending this week’s Festival of Creativity in Singapore.

An email which appears to have been sent to Mumbrella by mistake, implies that the reason for the ban is because the organisers want to use publicity from a ban in order to gain “leverage”.

terry savage leverage

Lions chairman Savage’s email which appears to have been sent to Mumbrella by mistake

The decision to refuse press accreditation comes after Mumbrella raised questions for a second year running about the credibility of June’s Cannes Lions awards judging process.

In 2014, a Mumbrella investigation into a number of shortlisted and winning entries from Asian and Australian agencies into the Cannes Lions, pointed to a number of campaigns that looked more like “scam” advertising, where work has been created to meet the minimum requirements to win awards rather than solve real client problems.

Questionable entries discovered by Mumbrella included a campaign created for a brand that the agency was not on the roster for; work that met minimum entry requirements by running once in a cheap suburban newspaper; and work that no record could be found of having been published at all.

The most awarded print ad in the world last year, created in Singapore, ran only once in a single edition of a free listings magazine. The campaign, for Guinness, won gold at Cannes and helped the agency that created it claim network of the year at Spikes a few months later. This year, an ad for a carpet protector that ran once in one edition of a magazine for Indian expats in Singapore was shortlisted at Cannes.

A significant part of the highly profitable Lions Festivals business model is based on maximising the number of awards entries it receives from agencies.

Last year, Top Right Group, which owns Lions Festivals, saw its events business deliver revenues of more than $280m. Top Right Group is owned by private equity company Apax and The Guardian, and is reportedly for sale, with Cannes Lions having driven its growing profitability.

Despite the questions raised over the Cannes Lions entries by Mumbrella in 2014, the organiser ruled that all entries were valid, with Cannes Lions chairman Terry Savage comparing ads that ran once in Sydney’s Rouse Hill Times in the final week before the entry deadline with a one-off Superbowl commercial.

As a result, Mumbrella content director Tim Burrowes wrote that Mumbrella journalists would no longer attend the Cannes Lions, having lost belief in the willingness of the organisers to apply the rules if it meant risking entry revenues.

This year, journalists from Mumbrella did not attend Cannes, but later scrutinised unfamiliar local entries that made the shortlist and discovered new irregularities in the 2015 contest.

Mumbrella’s Australia site looked into an entry from digital agency VML on behalf of Transport for NSW, which made unusual claims about a piece of car safety technology it claimed was being rolled out across the state. After questions from Mumbrella, Transport NSW disowned the campaign and said the award entry had not been authorised.

Despite the fact that the awards had already taken place, and rules which specifically state that entries cannot be withdrawn later, the agency was allowed to withdraw the entry rather than be embarrassingly disqualified. VML is owned by the world’s biggest communications group WPP, which spends millions of dollars with the Cannes Lions each year.

In August, Cannes Lions told Mumbrella it considered the matter closed.

Meanwhile, Mumbrella had already taken the view that there was insufficient relevant content to send a journalist from the Australian office to cover this week’s Spikes Asia conference and awards.

But Singapore-based Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks did request accreditation from the awards show’s press and PR manager Camilla Lambert. Savage emailed late last week to refuse attendance. He wrote:

Dear Robin ,

Camilla has passed on to me your request for accreditation at Spikes Asia . Following Cannes in 2014   Tim Burrowes was very clear in a well promoted article where he said  “I took the decision that we should stop sending our journalist to Cannes ,I felt we should not be part of the system “. Despite that I granted both you and Miranda from Mumbrella  Australia a press pass to Spikes last year  . This year following Cannes he reiterated his position stating that  ”remaining outside the tent still feels like the place to be “. Well Robin Spikes is Cannes , same systems , same methodologies , same teams and it seems quite pointless to grant you and Mumbrella a press accreditation when your publically stated position is so clear and strong .

However, Savage appeared not to realise that he was forwarding an internal note, and had not removed the subject line, which read: “FW: Mate want some publicity this will get it – that mate is our only leverage point in my view .”

Mumbrella emailed Savage to ask for clarification about what his references to publicity and leverage referred to. He declined to comment.

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